Monday night will be the last night the New Orleans Pelicans take the court in the Smoothie King Center this season. To put it simply, 2015-16 was a total dud and injuries are largely to blame for New Orleans falling back to Earth after last season's playoff appearance. Tomorrow night the Pelicans will be without Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter among others. Hopefully New Orleans fans still make their way out and support those who are left standing because this ragtag bunch of players really have competed their best.
To help close out the Pelicans' home campaign, I reached out to Ricky O'Donnell at Blog a Bull to get a better feel for the Bulls. Chicago was eliminated Sunday with the Indiana Pacers win so I imagine Ricky is just a big ole stormy cloud of sad feelings and frowny faces. In fact I originally asked him if he thought the Bulls would make the playoffs and his response was "uhhhhhh, sure. I guess so. I try to be an optimistic person." Reassuring! If you'd like to follow him on Twitter and send him good vibes, he's at SBN_Ricky. Let's get down to business.
1) After such prolonged regular season success, the Bulls are out of the playoffs. What's gone wrong? Is this a one-year anomaly or something bigger?
It's easy to say "injuries," but I do think that's the primary culprit. It started on the first day of practice when Derrick Rose caught an elbow to the face and it ended up affecting his vision for months. The defense has really sunk in the second half of the season without Joakim Noah. And then there's the knee issues Jimmy Butler has been through recently, Nikola Mirotic's botched appendectomy and the back injury that kept Mike Dunleavy out the first 50 percent of the season. They haven't had their full compliment of players all year. It's hard that way.
Another reason: they fired a great defensive coach and replaced him with an offensive coach...only to see the offense rank No. 26 in the league this year. To me, this is a personnel problem. The Bulls ran back the exact same roster with only rookie Bobby Portis as a new addition. It's created a square-pegs-in-round-holes vibe all year. The roster was built for Thibs under the guise of a tough-nose, defense-first identity. Now these same players have been asked to adjust to Hoiberg's system. It hasn't been a smooth transition.
2) Is there any buyer's remorse for firing Tom Thibodeau and hiring Fred Hoiberg?
People are quick to forget the Bulls had a lot of these same problems last season. In the second round series versus the Cavs, without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, it was very evident that the Bulls just quit. The team's lack of urgency extends beyond Hoiberg. Thibs was an amazing coach and I will cherish his time in Chicago forever because his teams were really fun to root for, but personally I am okay with the coaching change. Now they need a roster to fit Fred's style.
3) Gut feeling: is Joakim Noah back next year?
No. But I hope he is.
4) Was Pau Gasol ever seriously in danger of being traded?
There were a lot of rumors! I would have loved that Koufos and McLemore for Gasol and Snell swap that was proposed. I just hope they don't re-sign Pau next year. He's still very good but he's too slow, he doesn't play any defense and he stands in contrast to the style Hoiberg is trying to install.
5) It's pretty clear that the Chicago Bulls are Jimmy Butler's team now. How do you build around him? And does Butler's emergence affect Derrick Rose's future with the Bulls next season?
The Butler-Rose thing is a bit strange because it's true: they don't play very well off each other. I think that's mostly for basketball reasons: neither player is a very good shooter, both like to hold the ball and go iso because both are very good iso scorers. I think the Bulls do have some nice pieces but they need a quick reboot this summer. Get a wing, get a defense-first bigman, find a backup point guard who is not a midget shot jacker like Aaron Brooks. I think it starts with keeping E'Twaun Moore, who has been very good in between Rose and Butler. Both players have vouched for him this season.
6) Do you think the Bulls will ever update Michael Jordan's statue outside the United Center to include crying Jordan face?
MJ slander will not be tolerated. He's the best of all-time at everything...including crying.